Why focus on race?

Eric Lanser

Last week, Julia Callander outlined the progress of Lawrence’s efforts to enhance “diversity” on campus.The value of racial diversity goes virtually unchallenged today.

However, racial diversity deserves no such status. It is not a value. It is neither a value nor disvalue. Race counts for nothing.

It counts for nothing because the color of your skin and the country you are born in are not what make you a good person, a funny person, or a person that I’d like to hang out with. They do not determine whether you are dedicated to honesty, whether you live your life with passionate purpose, or what you think of yourself.

Your race doesn’t count for or against you, because the color of your skin is of no significance to your moral character.

One’s upbringing can have an important impact on some of one’s values. For instance, growing up in Wisconsin, I like the Packers, German potato salad, and the strawberries I picked with my mom as a kid. I like certain kinds of music, I dress in certain kinds of clothes, and I laugh most at certain kinds of jokes. Of course, my childhood environment influenced these preferences.

And all of these things do contribute to who I am. However, these are all optional values-values that don’t make me a good or bad person, but only reflect my particular choice out of a wider field of legitimate values.

For instance, I hope to eventually teach philosophy, but I could choose to be a lawyer or a doctor or a businessman. I wouldn’t be a better or worse person for choosing one of those over another. Within limits, one’s choice of career is an optional value.

This is decidedly not the case with all values. In a civilized world, virtues like honesty, integrity, and independence benefit the lives of all individuals, regardless of the place they grew up in, their sex, their native intelligence, how much money their parents had, or the color of their skin.

It is these values that really matter. Lawrence should seek to find talented students with good moral character, regardless of their race. Although Dean Syverson thinks merit-based aid “is a bad thing for higher education,” merit is the only legitimate guide for evaluating human beings in any field, including admissions.

To discriminate based on factors other than merit is to cheat the deserving in favor of the undeserving. It is to denigrate the virtuous to the same level as the vicious, to treat equally heroes and villains, producers and moochers, life-savers and killers.

Race has nothing to do with merit. Considering race rather than merit, either for or against someone, is racist, irrational, and destructive.

A rational person chooses his friends because they are good people with whom he shares values, not because of a superficial characteristic such as skin color. This is the way one meets and makes the best friends and develops meaningful, valuable relationships.

If colleges are truly concerned with creating a rich cultural environment with the values necessary for an institution of learning, then it is on merit and character, not skin color, that they should base admissions.